Needful Things

April 27, 2009

Jasper came into the world with a bang, in a hulksmash explosion of blood and birthmatter and pain. And when they handed him to me – he, as full and round and alert as a baby many times his age – he reached for me and clung and suckled with the same ferocious determination that had propelled him so explosively from my womb.

He clung to me and suckled and grew and grew and grew. I ached, and bled, pummelled and raw from his insistent thirst. I ached and bled, and loved.

I called him Truffler, because at night he would snort and burrow, seeking out my breast with his nose and mouth, never opening his eyes, never waking, just drinking, sucking, snorfling until he had his fill. In the light of day, eyes open, he would use his hands, grabbing and kneading and pinching and gazing up at me, an adorable little beastie, ravenous and innocent and impossibly, impossibly soft, and I would wonder: how can a creature that brings such pain inspire such tenderness? Why do I not push him away?

I could not push him away. I could no more push him away than I could tear through my ribcage and rip out my heart. And so I pulled him to me, time and again, and exulted in the soft curves of his fat baby legs and his rounded baby belly and his plush baby bum, and smiled through the pain and exhaustion and wished, fervently, that this would never end. I pulled him to me and clung to him and drank in his babyness like a draught, knowing, in my gut, that someday, I would miss this, crave this, yearn for this like the parched soul yearns for cool water. And so I drank it in, in big, greedy gulps, matching his thirst with my own.

Even when the exhaustion became unbearable, I resisted pulling away. Even when he started to bite, I resisted pulling away. I tottered and spun from the exhaustion; my breasts bled from his painful nips: still I perservered, determined to preserve this, his babyness, his need for me. Even when it hurt, this need, I clung to it, I clung to it, unwilling – unable? – to let go. That he refused bottles was, in my tired mind, a kind of victory: he would have only me. He wanted only me. His need kept him young; his need kept him mine.

I drank his need like a draught.

When he finally took a bottle – a good thing, I agreed with my husband, a good thing that he be able to get nourishment from someone other than me, a good thing that I could be separated from him for a night, a good thing that he not need me so relentlessly – I recognized the moment as a victory. I could sleep through the night. I could leave him for more than a few hours at a time. I could wear a bra that did not feature clip-up flaps. I could go a day without being bitten. I could reacquaint myself with my body as my own.

I could move – I can move, now – through the day and through the night without experiencing myself as an object of need. This is good. I love it; I celebrate it; I thank the gods for it. But is it wrong to say – even as I recognize that he will outgrow that need, even as I acknowledge that he must outgrow that need, even as I celebrate my freedom from that need – that I still need him, that I am thirsty for his need of me?

Is it wrong that I cling to his babyness like an infant to a breast, that, in moments, I must fight the urge to paw and truffle and cling, to bury my nose in the sweet, soft folds of his neck and whisper, you are mine? Is it wrong that I have moments of wanting to press him to me and wish ourselves back to the first months of his life, when his need was unquenchable, indisputable? Is it wrong that I have moments of wishing that I could freeze time here and keep him as he is, or as he was a few weeks ago, my needful creature? Is it wrong that while I celebrate, quietly, ambivalently, his weaning, I mourn the growth, the movement toward his independence from me that this weaning represents? Is it wrong that I wish, sometimes, that I could keep him like this, a baby, my baby, forever?

This is the way his babyhood ends, not with a bang but a whisper.

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    Mr Lady April 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Yeah, dude, it never really stops, either. I think it’s perfectly right.

    (And whoever took that picture of you is a genius. Just sayin’)

    TeacherMommy April 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    It is not wrong at all. I mourn now that both my babies weaned themselves so young. At the time all I could do, in my secret exhaustion and hidden depression, was think -Thank God- and move on, never knowing that later I would look back and mourn that I did not mark the passing of that time of need, as you have here.

    Thank you for your vulnerability and openness. I come back to your blog time and time again because of it. You inspire me.

    Caroline April 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm


    Miss Grace April 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I’m pretty sure it’s not wrong.

    Jasper looks like he’s signing for more in that second pic.

    Cat April 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    He is so darling.

    Loukia April 27, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    This is perhaps the most beautiful post I have ever read! You have such a beautiful way with words. There is nothing Stephen King-ish about this post. Only a mother being honest and able to share a story that so many others can relate to 100%. I absolutely miss those days when my boys were babies and I was breastfeeding. I miss it. Even though yes, now, I have much more freedom. Those first few months are too precious and go by too quickly.

    Jill April 27, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Wow! This is one of the best posts I’ve read in along time! Thank you.

    Joy April 27, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    It is not wrong to celebrate the victories of a child growing and seeking more independence and still desperately miss the tiny needful infant they once were. It’s life.

    Despite being totally FINISHED after 3 babies, I still ACHE (my heart, my empty breasts, my empty arms) when I hear the sounds of an infant nursing…

    Her Bad Mother April 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Mr Lady – that would be my husband. We were at our storage locker, and I needed to nurse, and the only thing available was an old rocking chair, and there was nowhere to put it but out in the open. Kinda weird, but it makes a point.

    palinode April 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I pronounce you the Rachmaninoff of bloggers. Reading your stuff is like watching a soloist’s hands fly across the keys.

    April April 27, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    i just weaned my 13mo a few weeks ago because he wouldn’t stop biting and i was really afraid i would end up in the ER with a nipple in one hand trying to explain why i hadn’t just weaned the kid… he did fine with the weaning, just a couple of cranky days, but my heart still aches when i think about it :-(

    Paige April 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    This is a really beautiful post! I will savor every day with my nursing baby. And I’m loving the word snorfling!

    wherewiller April 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    With my oldest (3.5 yrs) I pushed his independence, wanted him to just grow up already, even down to putting him in pajamas at a year instead of a sleeper. Go, child, grow up fast, let’s go!

    With my youngest (almost 18 mths), I can’t let go of his babyhood. He’s in footed-sleepers some nights, still. He has sippy cups that look like bottles. I can’t imagine him not sleeping in a crib. We are slow and cuddly.

    ps – beautifully written post

    Pgoodness April 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    This is a beautiful post. My youngest is almost 4 and I still burrow into him, trying as hard as I can to hold on to that itty bitty bit of baby left.

    Ms. Moon April 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Perfectly said.

    Things Moms Like April 27, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I love this post. I am reminded, as my teenager took a trip out of state until Thursday, that this never ends. It never ends. They may not be at the breast, but you’ll always want to keep them close to it.

    Surprised Suburban Wife April 27, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Reading posts like this over the past couple of years are what have helped me to embrace my daughter's infancy, even at the most trying times. And I can't, just CAN'T, close the breastfeeding chapter with her – we are down to once a day now that she's 16 months old, and that is really more for me than her. Baby days really do disappear in the blink of an eye & you are wise to savour them.

    daniloth April 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Oh Catherine, I’ve been mulling over a post on exactly this topic, as I face weaning my daughter and returning to work.

    You so captured the feeling of ambivalence I have about it. Yes, I will enjoy the return of my body, and the return of sleep and independence. But I am far less sure about the loss of Her as a suckling, cuddling ball of tiny babyness. The sword is always, always double-edged.

    Amalah April 27, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Ezra only has bottom teeth and he’s biting me daily. He’ll gladly take a bottle from anyone now, and even I find myself caving some days and giving him one, just to get a break, just to avoid a nip, just to make sure he’s full since his appetite seems way beyond what I can provide anymore.

    And then I take some fenugreek and pick up again at the next feeding, because I am so. Not. Ready. I’m afraid he is, and that I’ll never be.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting April 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Weaning can be a very emotional time for any mom and baby pair, but especially when it is your last (I think I remember you tweeting about your husband going, or not going, to get a vasectomy).

    I am not ready for my baby to grow up. She is 2. She still nurses. When I ask her if she is a big girl or a baby, she tells me she is my baby (and I secretly glow inside and cherish that).

    I’m not ready for her to wean. I know I will be emotional when she does.

    I have friends that have written their child a weaning letter, as a way of expressing their feelings and having something for their child to remember the time by. I may do that. I don’t know yet.

    I also had professional photos taken of us nursing. One of them I posted on my blog:

    Others are more intimate and are cherished in family albums and on the wall in my bedroom.

    Great post…flood of emotions…emotions I’m not ready to handle yet.

    wright April 27, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    As always, this is a beautiful post. It brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure to every mother out there!

    Jasper is so sweet and BIG! When, oh when, did that happen?!?!

    sashalyn April 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    due to health complications, i have had to pump for my daughter and feed her my breast milk via her g-tube, and i, at this one year mark, am finally weaning the machine… silly enough, i am having the same feelings of separation, even though i have not had the same nuzzling and contact that you have. i love that i have nourished her all this time, just the same.

    i am feeling you, catherine. this is tough stuff… especially when it may be your last… (for me, maybe… for you… did you ever remind your husband of the snip?)

    Visty April 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Exactly how I am feeling. I am still nursing my third child, at almost 2 1/2. I did not nurse my older kids for more than weeks. It was horribly painful for the first solid year, but I didn’t quit. I don’t think I am heroic for that, or noble. Just needful for it.

    Lucie @UO April 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    The first time my son took a spoonful of rice cereal, I cried. Having him self-wean (NOT at all encouraged by me) at the age of one was incredibly hard. I am “free,” but as I watch him turn from baby to boy (16mos now) I literally ache for more baby days.

    Now I am crying while out in public studying. Thanks! (wink)

    No Mother Earth April 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Not wrong at all. It’s REALLY hard to let it go, even when you resent being “tied” to a baby who won’t take a bottle. You don’t know how much you miss it till it’s gone.

    Rebecca April 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    How beautiful. I can completely relate. I weaned my son at 20 months, and mostly only because I was pregnant and needing a few months with my body to myself (or, as it was, fully in the hands of the wee one growing inside me)

    I will always cherish that relationship we had.

    You captured it very wonderfully.

    sarah April 27, 2009 at 2:04 pm


    Brenna April 27, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Beautiful post and gorgeous photos!

    I am nursing my third, and lst, baby. Watching my 5 year old grow away from me and seek out my husband more, makes me hold onto my little one even more tightly… even as I look forward to weaning and being able to have the freedom to eat what I want (she has food allergies), drink what I want, and from the pain.

    Jaden Paige April 27, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    No, not wrong at all. I feel your pain… *sniff*

    That picture of him is sooooo adorable. Plain and simple. April 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful, beautiful post.

    Kim April 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    You write so beautifully and have described something I only knew how to feel. I am still struggling with this – nursing at night. I never want him to stop needing me. Thank you for this.

    for a different kind of girl April 27, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    He is pure bliss. That face…sigh. I’d type more, but I’m wiping away huge, baby lust-filled tears that keep coming up.

    Sam April 27, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    What a beautifully written post! THANK YOU!!

    After 11+ years of parenting I STILL yearn for my babies to **need** me the way I still need them. I celebrate the people they are becoming but I miss the infants they were. I miss being the only person who could right the wrongs, fill their bellies and soothe their pains. I suppose if it was still a requirement of me then I would not only NOT miss it, I would frequently resent it.

    Thank you. Again you have written something that speaks directly to my heart.

    Sam of babyREADY

    Olivia April 27, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I didn’t breastfeed but I still yearn for his babyness, his neediness of me. He’s a year now, in the care of someone else, not always needing or wanting to be with me, near me. I miss that, and yet I am so proud of him and love watching him grow.

    TheFeministBreeder April 27, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    What a beautiful, beautiful post.

    My breastfed baby is about to turn a year old. I want my body back. I want to wean. But I will miss this. I really will. I had no idea that I would come to savor something that seemed like torture just 12 months ago. I knew I would put in my time, but I never knew I wouldn’t want that sentence to end.

    I guess I just need to have another baby! ;)

    Lori April 27, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you for this beautifully written post. My 14-month-old is showing signs of wanting to wean. While part of me is very happy, the other part literally aches for the loss of her babyness. I guess I’m normal in that.

    Jasper is adorable.

    Virginia April 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Oh no. It’s not wrong. It’s perfectly normal. And he is just precious.

    CatrinkaS April 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I hope it isn’t wrong… i do all of it with my youngest, also a boy, now four. And he was a wild, ever moving, ever grabbing, ever biting nurser… and I miss those days.

    I tell him all the time that there is a little baby left just for me behind his left ear. And that there is nothing he can do to wash it off.

    Merrily Down the Stream April 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Is it wrong that I want you to bring him to me right now so I can nibble on him?

    Sharon April 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    So adorable!

    And so very true. With my second, I nursed until he decided to stop. He’s 10 now and somedays I still can’t believe he no longer nurses. I wish I could still nuzzle him on my lap.

    cris April 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    love it, love it. I love your blog, but your experience with nursing is precious. I can’t even imagine how I’ll survive weaning. But I feel by reading you, I’m preparing myself for it..I even linked to you on my post for today:

    MelissaQ April 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    This was just beautifully written. Nothing else left to say!

    Pamela April 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    This is such a timely post for me as my baby started biting me last night, and continued today, and I sense this is the beginning of the end — it happened this way with his brother, too. It’s very sad, and I’m definitely going to cherish the lingering moments for however long it lasts. Meanwhile, I’m also trying to look at the positive side, especially the no longer having to go into a special room to pump twice a day at work. Your post was beautifully written and captures the emotional aspects so well.

    Mrs. Wilson April 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    No, it is not wrong. Not wrong AT ALL! I mourned when I had to stop breastfeeding – due to work. I hated it. I hated it that my baby didn’t need ME anymore, but I still needed HER.

    I love this post.

    Rebekah April 27, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I love the photo of you two.

    Alli Worthington {@alliworthington} April 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Catherine, as always, you say it all so beautifully. Thank you for sharing this.

    Karen (agentninety9) April 27, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    My little girl was doing great until 4-5 mos of age. I’d suprisingly gotten my damn period a mere 3 months after she was born and not long after that, I guess my supply wained. I didn’t realize it right away – just chalked it up as a growth spurt. And I suffered. I hardly slept. I was in pain. Exhausted. But I hear you – I loved that she needed me. At her 6 month well-check – my worst nightmare – her weight hadn’t budged an ounce from her last appointment. I was firmly told to supplement and was refered to a pediatrician. I was crushed. Worse? The Pediatrician’s brilliant opener to me? “Not quite the Holstein you thought you were are you?” Yes, he actually said that. I was dev.a.sta.ted. I then punched him in the face. Ok, maybe I just wish I did… I should have dammit. Douchebag.

    I still kept up the nursing continued with supplementing for another few months until she no longer seemed to… want me. I could still cry. I felt like a complete failure.

    That awesome, intimate me and baby time was too fleeting. It IS too fleeting.

    Jill April 27, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Beautifully written. You are a poet.

    My first son was a truffler too. He would plow his big pumpkin head into my back repeatedly in a search for milk all night long. My second son is more of a puller…reach out and grab the shirt/chest/neck/hair and PULL the boob into his mouth by force. Shirts or bras won’t stop him!

    Allyson/HBMomof2 April 27, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I feel your pain. With the first we celebrate the accomplishments and with the last we mourn for their baby-hood. Great post. It summed up motherhood to a T.

    Meredith April 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I’d been trying to find the words for the birth of my son… you nailed it on the head with how your son “came into the world with a bang, in a hulksmash explosion of blood and birthmatter and pain.” My son did also… and we did a very similar breastfeeding dance. Thanks for the beautiful post.

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